On the Bare Necessities of Everyday Carry
FYI: I will slowly be moving my content over to rickytheleo.blogspot.com.au, and I will also be posting new content on there from this point onwards.
The idea of everyday carry (or "EDC") is an increasingly common one nowadays, but is also often talked about by people who think that this should include a knife (or knives), multiple ways to start fire, a gun (or guns), lights, extra batteries or battery chargers, first aid, etc. etc. etc. If, like me, you started looking up some items to take with you every day and baulked at the idea of keeping this much stuff on you (with some of these online guides even saying that you should take all this and more, and may as well just keep a small backpack with you at all times just to hold all this stuff), then this article is for you. Consider it a “jumping off point” of sorts, as I explain the few items I make sure to keep with me, and you can go from there to think about what you would find most useful to keep with you.
The items I’ll be covering are attempted to be both useful in an emergency of some kind, as well as for every day situations.
A Phone and Emergency Cash
Okay, these ones are a bit obvious, and they’re the most likely items on this list that most people carry already, perhaps without even thinking too hard about it. So let's cover these first.
A phone. For the majority of the developed world, mobile phones are ubiquitous, and with good reason. Within your pocket you have a device that can contact people all over the world, including friends, family, and emergency services.
In a true horror-story style emergency, it’s possible the power, phone lines, and communications system could go down, and in this situation your phone has just turned into a paperweight. But in any other situation, both in day-to-day life and in other emergencies, having your phone on you can let relatives know if you’re alright, and possibly even save your life. For example, there’s a bushfire near your property, which you were previously unaware of. Emergency services can inform you about its location, and suggest evacuating the area (this has happened to me before).
As for emergency cash, this one should also be fairly self-explanatory. Many wallets have hidden pockets in them, and it’s worth putting up to $100 in there to cover you for most bad situations. This could be running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere, and the only fuel-station around doesn’t have an eftpos terminal. Or, it could simply be that you’re out one night, discover you have no way to get home any more (possibly your car got stolen, or your driver simply got drunk and went home with someone else), and you need to catch a taxi without using your card (e.g. you left it at home to make sure it’s safe). Emergency cash is just useful to have, and helps you feel secure in the knowledge that if something goes wrong today or tonight, you’ll still be able to get home, and/or buy food and water until the situation is resolved.
Of course, emergency cash is useless if you keep using it up for everyday things such as the groceries. Unless you really don’t have any more money on you and you truly have to buy something in particular, don’t use this money for everyday purchases. Put it away somewhere, in your wallet or someplace else on your person that you don’t usually keep your money in, and forget about it until the need arises. On the flip-side, if you seriously don’t have any more money and you need to buy more groceries because there’s practically no food left at home, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars that you put that $100 away in the first place. In a case like this, don’t worry about using it (needing to buy food is indeed an emergency of sorts), just make sure to replace that emergency cash as soon as you can.
A light source
Many people have torches around the home, or a few of those ultra-powerful and palm-sized LED torches in the car somewhere. This is good practice, but what about if you’re not at home, or not near your car, when the need for some light arises?
Having a good source of light on your person isn’t just useful in emergency situations, but downright useful in other, everyday situations too. Need to head outside at night quickly? If it’s not a big job you need a lantern for, you can just head straight outside because you already have a light source on you. Did the lights in the toilet go out at work while you were halfway through your business? No issue here, just whip out your mini-torch, turn it on, finish what you were doing, and complain to the boss about the terrible lights.
For some people, it’s a little solar light on their keychain. Personally, I keep a wind-up torch in my pocket (pictured at right). It’s tiny, ridiculously light-weight (I barely ever notice it’s even in my pocket), and it puts out just enough light for me to see what I’m doing and where I’m going even in pitch-black conditions. It’s exactly all I need from a light source I can keep on me at all times.
I bought this one for $5.66 AUD. My partner and I got two because they’re so cheap - one for me and one for her - and both are still working fine after over a year. I’ve used mine at every opportunity, and while the paint job on it has faded quite a bit in particular places (reflecting its cheap price), I don’t really care. I didn’t buy it for its looks, I bought it because it’s small and functional.
The fact that it uses the tried-and-true wind-up style of generating power means that if it runs out of light at an inopportune moment, it nothing more than a minor inconvenience. Turn it off, wind it up for a few seconds, and it’s good to go once more. I personally prefer this reliability for an emergency light over battery-powered or solar-powered lights because each of these can become quite frustrating if you don't have batteries on you, or it's nighttime.
Even if the power source on a wind-up torch like this goes bad after years of use (whether it’s using a battery or capacitor to hold the charge), you should still be able to use it for absolute emergency lighting. It’ll require you to keep winding to keep the light going, which is less than ideal. The alternative could be worse though: Imagine that your solar light has gotten a bit too old, and either its panels or internal battery have become faulty. At that point, the solar light has just become useless.
All this is merely something to keep in mind when choosing your own personal light.
A way to make fire
This is something I find a bit more contentious in a lot of preparedness lists, even if I think it’s a good thing to have on you. The reason is that it seems most lists just tell you to have some way to make fire, with an unintended implication being that if you need to, you can just make a campfire for its various benefits. The important point I think is worth making first, is that if you don’t know how to make a campfire properly in the first place, one of two things are very likely to result from trying to MacGyver one without knowing how to do it properly. Either:
- The fire simply won’t get started or established (meaning you just wasted all your time putting it together and trying to get it going), or
- It’ll go out of control, burning the surrounding area (you included).
Out of these two, the former is most likely, but the point I’m trying to get across is that you should definitely try getting a campfire started at least once or twice in your life before it comes to an emergency situation. Not in a fireplace or in one of those steel bowls people use, but a real campfire, so that you know how to start a fire, how to get it established, and how to contain it. It’s really not that hard once you know the little tricks to getting a fire going, but it’s also not something you want to be wasting time figuring out for yourself in an emergency situation.
Go camping with someone who knows how to make a campfire, and get them to show you how to do it. Better yet, do it yourself with your friend's supervision and guidance. Even if you don't think you'll ever need to do this in an emergency situation, it's still just a good skill to have.
With that out of the way, a tool to make fire could easily be something which saves your life. Humans have used fire since almost as far back as we really became “humans”, and it’s not for no reason. Chances are highly unlikely you’ll need to use this fire-starting tool in an emergency, but as with everything else on this list, there are other non-emergency uses where it could be downright useful. What if you just want to start a fire in the fireplace, but have run out of matches? What about using it to light some candles for mood-lighting before a dinner with that special someone? What about being able to use the fire from your device for emergency lighting if your portable light source dies on you?
There are a lot of situations where readily having a lighter of some kind comes in surprisingly handy. Each week I’ll probably use my lighter at least once for something completely unrelated to smoking my pipe (which I only smoke about once every three to six months anyway), simply because it’s more convenient to use what I already have in my pocket instead of searching around for the matches.
My particular personal fire source is the Vector Thunderbird, which I reviewed recently in an article comparing it to the traditional Zippo lighter. To summarise that article, it’s handy, reliable, the butane in it doesn’t disappear over time (unlike the evaporating liquid fuel of the zippo), and it's small enough to fit into any Zippo-style case. A very useful little lighter.
Many sources on preparedness state that you should have multiple ways of starting a fire. This is indeed very good advice, and my partner and I have a few different ways to start a fire in our Bug-out Bag. But as long as you know your lighter or matches are reliable, I personally think that having one good lighting source on you will be enough for your everyday carry - assuming that you keep it in good condition, of course.
In a true emergency, all you should really expect from items light enough to carry on your person every day is a helping hand in a wide variety of circumstances. If you want to be able to handle any situation life could possibly throw at you, especially if you want to do this with small items you can fit in your pockets, I think you have to be more realistic. Otherwise, you’re very likely setting yourself up for failure.
With that said, hopefully the items you pick can be of some help even if they're not the exact right tool for the assignment. For example, when I really need to perform a job outside at night, my lantern will be better suited to the task. But if I only have my little torch on me, it's a darn sight better than nothing.
There are, of course, plenty of things which will help out in other specific emergency situations, but I’m not sure you need to carry all these knick-knacks and larger items on your person 24/7. In my opinion, those are the kind of items which should find their place in your aforementioned Bug-out Bag, discussed in more detail here.
When thinking about my EDC I try to think about how each item will help me in all ranges of situations. From everyday occurrences, to minor annoyances (e.g. temporary loss of power), to proper emergencies, your EDC should be able to help in some way.
With all of this in mind, I hope you’re able to come up with your own list of items, big or small, which you’re able to comfortably keep on your person to face a wide variety of situations.